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Craniotomy of the Stone Age; Time of Troubles Witnesses Found

Craniotomy is one of the oldest surgeries in the history of mankind, it was performed in the Upper Paleolithic period in different parts of the world. The number of reported cases is increasing, one of the recent discoveries made by Russian scientists is the human skull that successfully survived craniotomy at the end of the 2nd - beginning of the 1st millennium BC. Specialists of the Institute of Northern Development SB RAS, Institute of Archaeology and Ethnography of the Russian Academy of Sciences of Novosibirsk State University and the “Krasnoyarsk Geoarchaeology” Company, on the basis of this and other findings, literature and ethnographic research, restored in general the ancient technique of craniotomy in Siberia. The results are published in the International Journal of Osteoarchaeology.

The skull, which served as material for the study, was found in the burial of Nefteprovod 2 in Krasnoyarsk region near the former settlement Anzhevka on the right bank of the Kan River. This burial was robbed in ancient times, only scattered fragments of long bones remained from the skeleton, and it’s impossible to determine the sex of a person. Judging by the condition of the teeth and interosseal joints, the dead man was 30-40 years old, there is an oblong hole of irregular shape in the left parietal bone, that is, the trace craniotomy. There was an inflammation on the outer and inner sides of the skull around the hole, the wound was healing for a long time, so the patient survived this surgery without a doubt.



Considering published data and ethnographic materials, the researchers attempted to reconstruct the main stages of the craniotomy of a human’s skull from the burial in Nefteprovod 2. The patient apparently lay on his back, his head turned to the right, and the doctor faced him, while standing to the left of the patient. Or the surgeon could clamp the patient's head between his knees with his left hand, and performed the surgery with his right hand. Perhaps, he had an assistant.

First of all, the skin and underlying tissue was cut to the bone, then a hole was made there. It had an elongated shape, nearly vertical side edges – a flat front and more sheer back. Such holes are the result of scraping, which, judging by other finds, was the main method of craniotomy in different parts of the world. However, the ancient surgeons cut, sawed or drilled bones, if it was necessary. What tools were used and what they were made of remains unknown.

Bone was scraped to the dura mater. Violation of its integrity causes the formation of intracranial hematoma, which can cause the formation of abscesses, meningitis and other fatal complications. Since the majority of patients after craniotomy survived, the researchers suggest that surgeons of the Bronze Age didn’t violate dura matter. Then the wound was closed with skin, perhaps, bandaged and dried somehow.

Excessive bleeding that occurred after skin incision was very dangerous for the patient. In order to reduce the blood loss and ease the pain, the surgeries should have been carried out as quickly as possible. The way they stopped bleeding in ancient times is unknown. Perhaps, they used herbs, decoctions or cauterization. Herbs could also be used for pain relief.

Modern Siberian shamans use in their practice a few plant species that affect consciousness and can thus ease the pain, including: Ledum palustrel, L. hypoleucum, Juniperus sibirica, Thymus vulgaris, Cannabis sativa, and Amanita muscaria. The use of these means has a long tradition, it is usually accompanied by dances and other rituals. If hallucinogenic mushrooms and herbs were used in ancient times as a pain reliever, craniotomy is likely to be accompanied by a special ritual as well.

Indications for craniotomy were open and closed fractures, foreign bodies and tumors. They could treat headaches caused by increased intracranial pressure this way, or they could make a hole in the skull through which the evil spirits were expelled from the head. Sometimes the ritual craniotomy was performed, in order to make an amulet of the cranial bone, but the bone wasn’t scraped, it was cut for this purpose. The researchers couldn’t define the reason for performing craniotomy to the man from the burial Nefteprovod 2.

Judging by the number of people, who survived skull craniotomy, the ancient surgeons were rather skilled. Infectious complications occurred in about 15% of cases, the rate in modern neurosurgical surgeries is 4-12%.

The patient, whose skull was investigated by Siberian scientists, survived the surgery as well. Although the wound was inflamed and was healing for a long time, researchers have no reason to believe that the patient died of postoperative infection. The cause of his death is impossible to determine.

Shortly before the discovery, archaeologists from Moscow as part of the program of improvement of the historical center of Moscow “My Street” found things belonging to the era of the Time of Troubles including: pectoral crosses, shoe horseshoes, buttons and even a clay toy horse. But the most interesting fact, according to archaeologists, is finding of a large number of lead bullets related to the dramatic events of August 1612.

Then in the Zamoskvorechie district there were serious battles among the troops of the Second People's Militia and Polish invaders.

The main battles were carried out near Climentovsky chamfer and the church of St. Catherine on the Big Ordynka, which ended with the defeat of the militias. In a situation of temporary success of the enemy the initiative was taken over by Kozma Minin, he stood at the head of a few hundred of the nobility from the camp of Dmitry Pozharsky and attacked the Polish army, commanded by hetman Stanislav Zholkiewski. After this unexpected attack there was a turning point in the battle that led to the final defeat of the troops of Zholkiewski and the surrender of the enemy garrison. Since that time, the end of the Troubles in Russia began.

“The collection presents the main types of cast lead bullets, typical for the end of the 16th - early 17th centuries. Such munitions were used for handguns equipment in Western Europe and in Russia. All the found bullets were fired, and many of them were deformed, indicating their implementation”, - the deputy head of Mosgornaslediye, chief archaeologist of the city of Moscow, Leonid Kondrashov commented.

In addition, the archaeological research enabled to see the old wooden bridge of the 17th century. Decks were found under the cultural layer of streets of Bolshaya Yakimanka and Bolshaya Polyanka – the former areas of Kaluga and Serpukhov roads.


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